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Why don't women leave abusive relationships?

Why is it so hard to leave?

When the person who is abusive towards you is also providing you with the basics you need to live (money, safety, peace, happiness etc), trauma bonding can occur.

Trauma bonding is a strong emotional connection that develops between the victim and a perpetrator in an abusive relationship. This develops because in an abusive relationship, an abuser can be frightening and hurtful, but he/she may then be intermittently kind, e.g. giving presents and affection, or even stopping the abuse for a period of time. In these moments, the victim feels a rush of gratitude and love for her abuser and feels relief that the abuse has ended. The rescuer and the tormentor are the very same person, which means the bond becomes deeper than other healthy relationships as she starts to depend on him to survive.

Through trauma bonding, the victim can lose their own beliefs and identity and instead takes on the beliefs of their captor in order to survive. She believes that his/her behaviour is the result of a flaw in herself and turns inwards to try and resolve this and works harder to please him or her. Often, a victims’ sole goal becomes the abuser’s approval. Interactions with others become hollow and superficial as a result. A woman will often become less argumentative in order to survive.

Trauma bonding makes it easier for a victim to survive within the relationship, but it can severely undermine the victim’s sense of self, their ability to accurately see danger, and impairs their ability to see alternatives to their situation.

Once a trauma bond is established it can become difficult for the victim to break free of the relationship. 

Why don’t women leave abusive relationships?

One of the questions we hear time and time again is “Why doesn’t she just leave?”

We need to stop blaming survivors for staying and start supporting them to enable them to leave. By understanding the many barriers that stand in the way of a woman leaving an abusive relationship – be it psychological, emotional, financial or physical threats –  we can begin to support and empower women to make the best decision for them while holding abusers solely accountable for their behaviour. Here are just a few of the reasons that prevent a woman leaving:

Danger and fear

One of the most important reasons women don’t leave is because it can be incredibly dangerous. The fear that women feel is very real – there is a huge rise in the likelihood of violence after separation. 41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a male partner/former partner in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018 had separated or taken steps to separate from them. Eleven of these 37 women were killed within the first month of separation and 24 were killed within the first year (Femicide Census, 2020).


Domestic abuse often relies on isolating the victim: the perpetrator works to weaken her connections with family and friends, making it extremely difficult to seek support. Perpetrators will often try and reduce a woman’s contact with the outside world to prevent her from recognising that his behaviour is abusive and wrong. Isolation leads women to become extremely dependent on their controlling partner.

Shame, embarrassment or denial

Perpetrators are often well respected or liked in their communities because they are charming and manipulative. This prevents people recognising the abuse and isolates the woman further. The perpetrator often minimises, denies or blames the abuse on the victim. Victims may be ashamed or make excuses to themselves and others to cover up the abuse.

Trauma and low confidence

Imagine being told every day that you’re worthless and the impact that this has on your self-esteem. Victims have very limited freedom to make decisions in an abusive relationship, they are often traumatised, regularly told ‘you couldn’t manage on your own, you need me’. Fear is constant and they live in a world of everyday terror.

Practical reasons

Abusers often control every aspect of their victim’s life – making it impossible to have a job or financial independence. By controlling access to money women are left unable to support themselves or their children. They may fear having their children taken away or, if she has an insecure immigration status, mayfear being deported.

The support isn’t there when they need it

Asking for help is not easy. Misunderstandings about domestic abuse often prevents professionals from knowing what to do, how to talk about it or where to direct women disclosing abuse.

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